Category: Melrose Ontario

James and Janet Forrester

James Drummond Forrester, born Forfar, Scotland, 1823, died Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1904.

Slipped into the back of the photo album I inherited from my father was a picture of a serious-looking gentleman with silver hair. Although his name, James Drummond Forrester, was on the back, I had only a vague idea who he was.

Many years later, I discovered he was my great-great-grandfather, and a cousin sent me a photo of his wife, Janet MacFarlane. I learned that James and Janet had both emigrated with their families from Scotland when they were children, and they had grown up on neighbouring farms near Belleville, Ontario. They married around 1850, lived on the farm that James inherited from his parents and raised seven children of their own.

Thirty years later, they immigrated again, this time to Canada’s western prairies. Good land was becoming scarce and expensive in the Belleville area, while the North West was just opening up to settlement, so they sold the farm in Ontario and started over. Both were in their mid-50s at the time.

The decision was no doubt a good one in the long term, but it wasn’t easy. James bought land in the Aux Marais district of Manitoba, south of Winnipeg, during a period of real estate speculation and high prices. In 1884, when he could not sell his oats for a good price and frost ruined some of his wheat, he had to request an extension of his mortgage.

Shortly after they moved, their eldest daughter, Christina, who had married and stayed in Ontario, died in childbirth. James and Janet brought the baby to Manitoba and raised her themselves.

Janet MacFarlane, born Clunie Parish, Scotland, 1825, died Aux Marais district, Manitoba, 1901.

Lillian Forrester, who eventually became my grandmother, was very close to Janet, who was her grandmother, and she loved to listen to stories about Janet’s life. Lillian shared some of those memories with her cousin Charles Forrester, who incorporated them into an article.

Charlie wrote, “Although serious by nature and given to recording her thoughts and feelings in verse, none the less she [Janet] was practical and self-reliant, guiding the affairs of her household wisely and well. Yet she was far from claiming perfection, admitting the possession of a hasty temper, saying she was sure of more stars in her crown than Grandpa because of having to control a tempestuous nature, while his was placid, requiring no such effort.” 

Charlie then described James:  “Grandpa was not only a successful farmer, but a skilful carpenter, blacksmith and machinist and, with the help of my father, rebuilt threshing machines, wagons, sleighs and other necessary farm equipment.”

James and Janet planted a beautiful flower garden beside their house, surrounded by lilac trees. Both loved to read and had “a fine collection of books, many of them sent from Scotland and treasured like gold.”

When James and Janet Forrester celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1900, the whole family attended the party. After Janet’s death in 1901, James moved in with his son Donald in Winnipeg. James died in 1904. Both are buried in Emerson, Manitoba, a few miles from their farm.

Research Remarks: The historical atlas of the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward, Ontario, first published in 1878, listed James Forrester, farmer, from Forfarshire, Scotland, with 100 acres on Concession III, lot 20, and 99 acres on Concession II, lot 22, Melrose, Ontario. A searchable database based on this series of atlases ( may be useful to anyone with ancestors in rural Ontario.

The original book form of the atlas was also valued by the Forresters. It included a drawing, done by a travelling artist, of their farmhouse in Ontario. Grandson Charles Forrester recalled that, after the move to Manitoba, that atlas became a prized family possession.

Charles Forrester wrote a memoir about his extended family, entitled My World, In Story, Verse and Song, and it was published privately in 1979. His eight-page article “James and Janet Forrester” can be found in the Hamilton Family fonds at the University of Manitoba Archives,

Photo of Janet Forrester courtesy of Ruth Breckman. 

McFarlane Mysteries

The McFarlane farm in Melrose, Ontario.

There are lots of stories about my three-times great-grandparents John and Marjory MacFarlane. He was born in 1791, she was born in 1801. He was a stonemason who left Scotland after a fight with his brother and business partner, Donald. He invested in an oatmeal mill in Upper Canada and lost everything when it burned down. They had nine children, two of whom died as children.  

Unfortunately, I cannot yet document any of these stories. There are a few facts, however, that can be confirmed.

The marriage of John MacFarlane and May Robertson on 26 December, 1823 was recorded in the records of Clunie parish, Perthshire. Their first child, Janet (my great-great-grandmother,) was baptized in Clunie parish on 26 June, 1825.

The family arrived in Upper Canada around 1833. They settled in Melrose, Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, near today’s Belleville, Ontario, where they were included in the 1861 census of Canada. One of John and Marjory MacFarlane’s descendants is still raising cattle across the road from the original family farm.

I been unable to confirm John MacFarlane’s date or place of birth although, according to a copy of a family letter, author unknown, he was born 4 March, 1791.

John’s wife is referred to in various documents as Marjory, May and Margaret. There is a baptismal record for a Marjory Robertson, dated 15 March, 1801 in Caputh parish, however, her gravestone in Ontario gives her dates as 1804-1870. Was that the baptismal record of another child, or is there an error in the monumental inscription?

It does seem probable that the family lived in or near tiny Clunie parish. Family stories say they came from near Dunkeld and the Tay River. Both Clunie and Caputh parishes are very close to Dunkeld, a cathedral town with an old bridge over the Tay.

A view of the countryside over the wall behind Clunie Parish Church.

Gravestones, marriage and census records confirm most of their children’s names and some dates: Janet (1825-1901) married James Drummond Forrester; Christina, born 1827, was included in the 1861 census and then disappeared; John (1828-1907) married Letitia McKinney; Margery (1831-1835) died as a child, according to a family letter; Jean (1833-1883) married Ed Carscallen, and her marriage and death records confirm family stories that she was born on the Atlantic; Donald was born 1835, according to family records, and probably died as an infant; William (1838-1917) married Mary Jane McKinney; Margery, or Marsley (1840-1886) married James Balcanqual; Donald (1843-1900) married first, Helen Pegan, and second, Mary Anderson.

I am curious to know whether John MacFarlane was a stonemason before he came to Canada as one family story suggested. Maps and gazetteers dating from the 1800s indicate there were quarries in the Clunie region, so it is a possibility.

Did John build a mill in Melrose? Again, it is possible. In his book Historic Hastings, Gerald Boyce says, “The centre’s first grist mill had been built in 1833 by Mr. McFarlane …” More research is needed to clarify whether this was my John MacFarlane or someone else.

Research notes: Two topics worth discussion arise from this article. The first is Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS. (See The five central points of GPS are: the genealogist must do a reasonably exhaustive search; cite sources fully; analyze the collected information; resolve any conflicting evidence; write a coherent conclusion.

There are several conflicting pieces of information about this family, and I need to gather additional, reliable evidence to sort out fact from fiction. Maybe I’ll find all that evidence some day but, in the meantime, I do know enough to begin to tell their story.  

There is an inconsistency in the spelling of the family’s name. The gravestones in Gilead St. Andrew’s Cemetery and Melrose Cemetery, where most of these people are buried, spell it Mac, while family members now insist it is Mc; just another genealogical challenge, but no big deal.

The second topic involves one of my favorite genealogy research tools: maps. As well as being beautiful, old maps often show the locations of roads and structures that existed in our ancestors’ times, but are no longer visible. The National Library of Scotland has an extensive collection of digitized maps at I also found a good map showing Clunie Parish Church and its surroundings on the excellent Scotland’s Places website,

A solidly researched history of Hastings County, first published in 1967, has recently been updated and can be ordered from Historic Hastings,Volume One, with New Introduction and Expanded Index, by GeraldE. Boyce, is published by Global Heritage Press, Milton, 2013.